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Endless pacing...stress? energy? help

Discussion in 'Cat Training and Behaviour' started by Mikyla Smith, Sep 11, 2019.


  1. Mikyla Smith

    Mikyla Smith PetForums Newbie

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    I have a three year old blind cat who is a complex character. He's a challenge right now and I really need some help. I am going to give as much info as I can in case anyone can see anything that I can't.

    He's not completely blind but whatever vision he has is limited. For the first 2 years of his life he was a very social cat. Lots of people in and out of the flat who he was friendly and confident with. He's very into routine and as long as I stuck broadly to that we were all good. This all changed about 10 months ago seemingly after I sent him to my aunts for a few days whilst I had a holiday (this wasn't his first time away from home). Since then he's been largely petrified of anybody new coming to the house and even skittish when it's people he knows or there's more than one person in the room.

    He has always been a bit of a pacer. I used to notice it if I was out for longer periods than the usual work day or hadn't played enough - fair enough he needed to burn off energy.

    A few months ago he started having violent seizures. He had one every 24 hours for a week until the vet finally agreed with my opinion that he was epileptic and prescribed medication. We are on low dose phenobarbital and have only had one break through seizure since. He doesn't love the medication but takes it without fuss.

    Recently I moved from a small flat to a 3 bed house which needs work - so lots of people coming and going to quote for jobs etc. He has been scared at times and cautious but given this huge change in his life not too bad. We have been here around 2 months. Over that time his pacing has reached the point of insanity, particularly in the evening after I come home from work. Sometimes he doesn't stop for hours - round and round in a large loop circle like a caged lion. Ive tried food, play, cuddles....anything I can think of to stop it or distract. Ive tried ignoring it because I read that that attention could act as a reward. I can't watch anymore. I am so worried that he's desperately unhappy or something is wrong and I don't know what to try. 3 hours of watching your animal do the same 2 meter loop is maddening. At times in the past when pacing was due to energy he would always want to play. Now he barges past as if i am not there like a zombie.

    Zyklene doesn't work. Feliway doesn't work. He's had a lot of recently blood tests due to the epilepsy and nothing wrong. I appreciate we've just moved, but things are getting worse not better.

    Does anyone have any insight over what could be wrong and what to do?!
     
  2. chillminx

    chillminx PetForums VIP

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    Hi @Mikyla Smith :)

    Pacing in cats is usually a sign of high levels of anxiety or stress. You could consider putting him on Zylkene (which is calming) but as he is already on a low dose of pheno, Zylkene may have no effect at all.

    As you have now moved to a 3 bedroom house, could you build a wooden outdoor enclosure for your cat, which he could access through a cat flap on the back door? This would give him a new interest in life and give him the opportunity to listen to the birds and smell all the interesting outdoor scents, even if he can't see very much. You could fill the enclosure with outdoor cat trees, cat beds etc. and grow some cat-friendly plants to appeal to his sense of smell. e.g. cat nip and cat thyme.

    I think providing the positive alternative of safe outdoor access would be a better solution than trying to work out exactly what is bothering him indoors. A cat enclosure need not be expensive, just some wood and some chicken wire (or bird cage wire). It will give him a better quality of life than being indoors all the time, and if he wants somewhere quiet to be on his own, a enclosure is perfect (as long as you cover it with a waterproof roof to keep the rain out.

    Here's a link to a pinned thread on the Cat Chat forum giving details of cat enclosures that forum members have put up in their own gardens:

    https://www.petforums.co.uk/threads/cat-runs-cat-proofed-gardens.211361/
     
    #2 chillminx, Sep 11, 2019
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2019
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  3. Mikyla Smith

    Mikyla Smith PetForums Newbie

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  4. Mikyla Smith

    Mikyla Smith PetForums Newbie

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    Hmmm. In terms of quality of life and being indoors, he has up until now lived in a one bedroom flat with balcony and paced only on occasion. His foster carers originally liked my set up as it was a smaller territory for a blind cat to navigate and patrol. Since moving to a large 3 bed place, pacing is incessant (and seems to go alongside increased nervousness in general). The problem is that I can't identify it is stress or boredom and therefore I can't solve it. If its boredom why now, in a much larger and more interesting house? If its stress why aren't there any other signs? Perhaps the only other sign is a reduction in sleeping?....He has also always slept with me but in the two months since being here has slept in with me only once.

    If its stress I would be concerned that increasing his area to explore could be more overwhelming. How do I know if he's even used to or happy with the current set up? He has been given access to the garden for short periods with me supervised. Whilst he is interested at first and he enjoys sniffing around, he will eventually pace. I believe that increasing the amount of space he has access to at the moment might be the worst thing I can do if he is stressed and this gives him more territory to 'patrol'....blindness means he doesn't climb (only onto beds and sofas when he knows humans sit) and has no interest in catnip or other things that tempt other cats.

    Re Zylkene - per my post it doesn't work. Feliway has also had no noticeable impact.
     
  5. chillminx

    chillminx PetForums VIP

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    What does the vet say about the pacing ? Perhaps it's due to his epilepsy or to the drug he is on...
     
  6. Mikyla Smith

    Mikyla Smith PetForums Newbie

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    Epilepsy would be better - then i know its just him - but the increase in pacing hasn't correlated with starting the meds.

    My vet, as with many, isn't amazing with cat epilepsy - but I am a member of a facebook group for epileptic cats and they are an unbelievable font of knowledge. Of the 1000s of members with many different issues, none report pacing as being a problem with epilepsy or said they had similar issues when i posted about it. Pacing for epilepsy is associated with a post seizure phase and its a short term issue. Vet also just advised Zylkene and Feliway.

    I am at the end of my rope. As we speak he is currently pacing frantically around my bed in spite having two of us home all evening and much play and stimulation. Its like watching someone who can't settle or relax and the behaviour has become compulsive.
     
  7. Mikyla Smith

    Mikyla Smith PetForums Newbie

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    I suppose I hope that this move - including the week leading up to it where his environment was chaos - was all just a bit much and that he will mellow out. But after 2 months here things seem worse not better.
     
  8. lorilu

    lorilu PetForums VIP

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    I wonder if there are smells from previous tenant that are bothering him. Especially other cats? With such limited vision his sense of smell is probably even more developed than a seeing cat, and that is already extremely high.

    With cats is is all about smell.

    Or, as you say, just the amount of space is overwhelming him. Did you keep him to one room for a period of time when you first moved?
     
  9. Mikyla Smith

    Mikyla Smith PetForums Newbie

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    Its an old victorian house (with walls exposed and evidence of mice in the past) vs a new build that only I lived in, so I suspect its really different for him in that sense. People always say to me 'wow he must have an amazing sense of smell' but I'm not convinced; he is absolutely terrible at locating treats on the floor even when right on top of it with his face in it! :p But yes, I have no sense of how the environment must feel for him from that point of view.

    I tried to confine. I was aiming for just the living room for 10 days at first, but he kept barging out and I gave up after a few days. He also seemed agitated in the room and keen to explore outside. The problem with him is that he's incredibly curious but also scared. This is the issue when someone new comes, he wants to nose and see who it is but freaks out when he gets near. He was then kept downstairs for well over a month (downstairs is a similar size to old flat).

    Last few weeks he's been coming upstairs. After learning to use stairs for the first time he seems to really enjoy going up and down and has taken to sitting at the top for a snooze (when not pacing).

    Do you think its stress rather than boredom?
     
  10. lorilu

    lorilu PetForums VIP

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    I don't think this is boredom. You said you are trying to play with him and distract him from his pacing. But ...I'm thinking his hearing is probably very acute too. Mice in the walls? Smell of mice in the house? It might be enough to keep him agitated.

    Has the manufacture of the medicine changed? Different color pills for instance. Thinking as far out as I can, maybe a new make of med has something in it bothering him.

    I had a cat on phenobarbital all his adult life, from age 3 when his seizures started. He saw a neurologist and was diagnosed with idiopathic partial seizure disorder. These days it might be thought he had a very severe case of FHS, feline hyperesthesia syndrome, which wasn't recognized back then.

    What I really think is your boy should see a neurology specialist and have at least a CT-scan if not an MRI.
     
  11. Mikyla Smith

    Mikyla Smith PetForums Newbie

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    Oh my god I think you've nailed it. I've seen FHS mentioned on my epicats page but only just googled. I am SURE he has it. He doesn't mutilate but he has skin rippling, periodically grooms his side as if frantically, jumps when things are not there, attacks things I can't see, has excessive zoomies, dilated pupils and has the most insane swishy tail you ever saw! I think this might be the key. Is there anything I can do given he's already on pheno?

    A more experienced vet who helped me a great deal get my vet to accept epilepsy advised against an MRI. Said it was more stress than it is worth as he is certainly epileptic and it will show nothing, it's just to rule out brain tumours. I would have to drive him 3 hours and pay £3000 for the pleasure. As much as I can afford him and everything goes into his care that is not an option for us.
     
  12. Mikyla Smith

    Mikyla Smith PetForums Newbie

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    And yes. About a month ago I switched from liquid pheno to pills!
     
  13. chillminx

    chillminx PetForums VIP

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    Anxiety is one of the well-known side effect of phenobarbitol in cats.

    Perhaps the pills you switched to are better absorbed by his body than the liquid, so he is getting a stronger dose than before. (This is the case sometimes with certain human medicines e.g. a different manufacturer compounds the dosage slightly differently, or adds different fillers which affects the rate of absorption).

    If he has FHS and not epilepsy he may not need pheno, unless it is very severe FHS (as I appreciate some cases are). One of my cats has FHS, and the severity of the attacks has lessened as he has got older (now aged 9), and the condition has been manageable without drugs.
     
  14. Mikyla Smith

    Mikyla Smith PetForums Newbie

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    I think it's both. He had 6 violent grand mal seizures in 6 days when it started - that wouldn't be FHS alone??? - and so i was desperate for meds so we could both rest. Re the potential FHS fortunately he doesn't bite himself, but he is easily over stimulated. He's always been a funny quirky little cat, so i assumed that was it but a lot of his ticks and behaviours could be explained by FHS. The problem is, vets really aren't that great with this stuff so my epilepsy-cats page on FB gives me more info.

    We switched to pills because he hated the liquid and i couldn't guarantee he was getting his dose at the right time by putting in his food so he was getting it directly into his mouth. I suppose i may have to switch back......
     
  15. lorilu

    lorilu PetForums VIP

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    Well you said you just had blood work and his pheno levels are where they should be? He is not having any break through seizure activity?

    What's his diet? Some people have had success managing FHS with getting their cats on a better diet. Wet food only (or raw/home cooked) absolutely noting artificial. No dies, or artificial flavors, no sugars, no grains, no sodium nitrates or sodium nitrites, no carrageenan or xanthan gum.

    Tolly took a pretty high dose of phenobarbital, and it took about 18 months to find the dose that controlled the episodes. I started low and worked up until they stopped. Then I started dropping until they started again, then back up. His were very severe, constantly racing around chasing "invisible bugs" biting his flank, biting the floor, flipping his ears, rippling his back, it was terrible to watch.

    He took pills, a 1/2 pill and a 1/4 pill together in the morning and 1/2 pill at night I think it was. It was a long time ago, I'd have to dig out his records to know the doses, but if your cat is taking only once a day perhaps splitting the dose to twice a day might help as well, or adding a tiny dose in the evening (increasing the dose slightly).
     
  16. Mikyla Smith

    Mikyla Smith PetForums Newbie

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    2 months ago the dose they put him on worked straight away (liquid). it was the lowest dose for his weight and it worked so i was happy. As far as i saw we've only had one break through seizure in 2 months (and that was in first week during adjustment phase). I don't know if he paced more when we started that - at that time but we were moving and life was chaos in any case.

    1 month ago I then switched to pills because he hated me giving him liquid. The pills are really tricky. He is supposed to have 1/3 of a pill twice a day, which is near impossible to cut. So I went from trying to do a 1/3 to 1/2 for about 2 weeks. I found it made him a little too sluggish, because he's a small, so ive gone back to trying to do a 1/3. Its possible that his pacing increased since going back down then. You do have to play with dosage to get it right.

    Stupidly, as he scratches his face a lot I put him on an anti allergy food recently which he hated - some extremely expensive hills brand. So he basically stopped eating. Given the new house and the drug changes and whatever, I should never have tried that. Its possible that his lack of food contributed to the half a pill making him sluggish. We've gone back to horrid whiskers, but its what he likes. I would like him to eat better food though and am happy to buy a good brand - at least i now know he doesn't need the mega expensive anti allergy one that he hates because his itching is probably the FHS! Wet food only would work for us as he hardly drinks.

    I haven't had his bloods done in the last 2 months, so I will try with half a pill and eating full meals again and see what it does with the FHS. Then ill get bloods checked. I also would love to add CBD but its a minefield to know what to buy.
     
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  17. carly87

    carly87 PetForums VIP

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    From a blind person's perspective, he's probably quite upset by the move. An old Victorian house sounds very different to a new build. In order to get around, he will be using echolocation, just as I do. Echos bounce back very differently from old, thicker, solid walls than they do from the well insulated, more hollow, new builds. The sound is much deader, for want of a better explannation, although I appreciate that that doesn't really explain it very well as it's much more than this.

    When I met my now husband, he lived in a Victorian build. For the first few weeks whilst navigating around, I had to be very mindful of my surroundings to avoid bumping into walls, as they were much harder to hear. The new builds echo beautifully due to their more hollow construction, whereas the older ones feel like they're sucking sound away from you, whilst looming ominously over you at the same time. Combine that with any archways or lower ceilings you have, and it changes the acoustics to an extent where, even when you know what's goin on, you're a bit wary.

    Then add on top of that the new smells. I know cats can seem a bit thick when they can't locate things, but it doesn't mean they don't smell them. All it means is that they don't know how to pinpoint the smell. Wave a bar of chocolate under my nose and I'll turn my head quick enough, but if you asked me to stick out my tongue and lick it exactly where it was, I couldn't. I could give you a general direction, but no more than that, which is probably why he can't find his treats even when he's on top of them. It doesn't mean he doesn't smell though. Then you have the potential smells of other animals that have been in the property. Perhaps dogs, which he will be genetically programmed to be wary of. This will be heightened because he can't see the threat. I'm terrible at perceiving threats as more scary than they are when it comes to something I can't see. Wasps, for example, send me into a blue fit. But if someone calmly states "there's a wasp, it's flying round you, hold still, now it's behind you" etc etc, I still don't like it, but can sit still until it's gone. Knowing where it is is a huge calming aid.

    Are you very sure you dont' have mice in the walls any longer? I wonder if the sound of those could also be bothering him?

    Next comes stress. There's a lot of coming and going as you say. He's hearing strange noises and voices in an environment which already sounds, smells and feels strange. he can't see it, and from what you say he isn't going round tasting everything by licking it, so all of his usable senses are telling him that this is different, so he must be careful.

    He will also feel caged, not by the distance he has to roam, but by the fact that he doesn't know his space any more. When I move to a new house, although I don't make a big thing of it, I live in a heightened state of anxiety until finding my way around doesn't involve a lot of thought or wall bumping any more. I have to get used to walking across different spaces and around different obstacles. During this time, I often, if I can coax someone to go with me, will go out for long walks, or do anything to get out of the house because it relieves my anxiety to just hold onto someone else and not think about where I'm putting my feet for a bit. It's a release in a way, because it means I can know that I'm walking safely without the chance of hurting myself, and I feel in control again. I wonder if this is what he is doing when he paces in circles? It's familiar territory. He can get going without bumping things, which is a self calming input.

    Next, you have the change of medication, which, as others have said, could be absorbing at a different rate. This will also change his perception of his environment.

    Pacing is a typical behaviour exhibited by captive animals who are stressed or unhappy. In this case, due to the shutting down and the lack of him interacting with you, I'd say it's stress.

    Suggestions for you going forward:

    Leave the radio or TV on low, preferably with classical or constant talking, not music that mixes lots of sounds like drums and guitar. This will mask the noise of strangers coming and going, as well as providing a constant background noise which he can use the echos of to navigate by. This is a trick I use, as the radio/TV itself gives a reference point, as well as background noise for echolocation.

    Revert your medication back to liquid: You don't have to do this permanently, but do so until he's settled and the pacing reduces.

    Confinement: Confine him to one room, ideally a room that is static, i.e you've decided where all the furnature is going, it's one you use a bit, and it doesn't have workmen in. I know it won't seem kind, but actually, right now, he needs to come to terms with his environment, and confinement is the best way to help him settle. Try and walk around on the floors of this room with bare feet. Leave blankets etc around that smell of you/him, to help claim this as your territory. Try introducing a light perfume/body spray that you wear on the floors/low walls, as this could then help him spread his scent security into the rest of the house when it's opened up to him (you spray each room as he gets access to it).

    Threshholds: Mark them with a different texture. I'd suggest a scratching matt, as they hold smells really well, and feel completely different under foot. I know he hasn't needed this in the past, but you're in a bigger space now, and he needs the security of definite boundaries for a while until he settles.

    Exercise: I know it's a huge thing to suggest, but could you get him a cat wheel? It'll take him a while to get used to it, but this would enable him to really run with freedom, something which really helps burn off anxiety when in a high stress situation. Blind people have a heightened expectation of bumping into things when they move quickly, and I'm sure he will too, but sometimes moving fast is necessary to get rid of stress. If there was a human sized wheel, I'd have one! I'd set yours up near a wall if it's open sided, as he'll need the echo of a solid surface to keep a straight line. Otherwise, get one that's enclosed on 1 side, like the McLaw wheel. They're expensive, but supposed to be very good.

    PetRemedy: I have this running for my cats. We currently live in a house that we're rennovating. The cats are confined to the livable upstairs, but hate not being able to follow us when we go down to cook dinner etc. We run this to help them be easier without our company (they're Persians, so get anxious when we're in and they can't get to us). I know the zylkene did nothing, so perhaps this would work and perhaps not. Worth a try though.

    Outdoor enclosure: I wouldn't actually do this just yet, as personally, I feel this might be too overwhelming, particularly if he's never been outdoors, or only has limited access. I'd aim for this in the future once he's settled with his environment, as it would give him a stress free escape when all the work is going on, but not just yet. Just note that when you make it, you will need to use thicker gauge metal wire, not chicken wire, and ideally with a close mesh, as this will make it easier for him to hear it. I normally pop some bug netting over my mesh outdoor runs, as it has the duel benefit of allowing a bug free environment, but it's also easier for me to hear where the boundaries are when I'm moving around in there. This is such a good idea going forward, and I'd say quite important for a cat who doesn't cope with change well. CM's idea of access on his terms through his own catflap is also brilliant as he won't have to ask to go there then, and can self-soothe when he needs to with a visit.

    Apologies for the long and rambly post, but I hope some of it helps somewhere.
     
  18. chillminx

    chillminx PetForums VIP

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  19. Mikyla Smith

    Mikyla Smith PetForums Newbie

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    This is an incredibly useful post. I will digest and come back to you on some of the points - especially about smells. You've raised kind of my general point, which is that it could be all these things combined and what is best to help.
     
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  20. carly87

    carly87 PetForums VIP

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    Just wondering whether your little lad has settled any more?
     
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